Paris Vagabond

Jean-Paul Clebert (Author) Patrice Molinard (Photographer)
& 2 more
Backorder (temporarily out of stock)

Product Details

New York Review of Books
Publish Date
April 12, 2016
5.2 X 0.6 X 7.9 inches | 0.9 pounds
BISAC Categories:

Earn by promoting books

Earn money by sharing your favorite books through our Affiliate program.

Become an affiliate

About the Author

Jean-Paul Clébert (1926-2011) ran away from his Jesuit boarding school at the age of seventeen to join the French Re­sistance, serving undercover in a Montmartre brothel to gather intelligence on the patrons who were German soldiers. After the liberation of Paris he wandered through a catalog of odd jobs including boat painter, cook, newspaper seller, funeral director's mute, and café proprietor. For many months he lived with the city's down-and-outs, though without losing touch with some of Paris's literary figures, notably Blaise Cendrars, and gathered the raw material for this book, first published in 1952 as Paris insolite. In 1956 he moved to Provence, where he remained for the rest of his life, writing many books, including a classic firsthand study of Gypsy life, originally published in 1961 and translated by Charles Duff as The Gypsies; and the encyclopedic Dictionnaire du Surréalisme (1996). Patrice Molinard (1922-2002) began his career taking stills for Georges Franju's legendary documentary on the Paris slaughterhouse at La Villette, Le sang des bêtes (1949). As a film director, he is best known for Fantasmagorie (1963), Orphée 70 (1968), and Bistrots de Paris (1977). Donald Nicholson-Smith was born in Manchester, England and is a longtime resident of New York City. He came across Clébert's Paris insolite as a teenager and has long wished to bring it to an Anglophone audience. Among his many translations are works by Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Henri Lefebvre, Raoul Vaneigem, Antonin Artaud, Jean Laplanche, Guillaume Apollinaire, Guy Debord, Jean-Patrick Manchette, Thierry Jonquet, and (with Alyson Waters) Yasmina Khadra. For NYRB Classics he has translated Manchette's Fatale and The Mad and the Bad, which won the 28th Annual Translation Prize of the French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation for fiction. Luc Sante is the author of Low Life, Evidence, The Factory of Facts, Kill All Your Darlings, Folk Photography, and, most recently The Other Paris. He translated Félix Fénéon's Novels in Three Lines and has written introductions to several other NYRB Classics, including Classic Crimes by William Roug­head and Pedigree by Georges Simenon. A frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books, he teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College.


"A rollicking, poetically charged tale of privation and adventure, a first cousin of Kerouac's On the Road for all that it takes place within the confines of one city. Clébert finds all the hidden worlds--the shacks and Gypsy wagons on the periphery, the ostensibly vacant lots . . . the mushroom farms and serpentariums concealed inside apartments. . . ."
--Luc Sante

"A remarkably vivid, detailed book that seems to have been composed with no method, its narrative marked by a chaotic and cheerfully self-acknowledged spontaneity... Clébert is a master of the long, cascading list-sentence, trippingly rendered into English by Donald Nicholson-Smith. His descriptions are mirrored by (not illustrated by) the bleak photographs of Patrice Molinard... A connoisseur of chaos, Clébert is the poet of the lumpen-proletariat and of a forgotten city." --Edmund White, The New York Times Book Review

"'This is not supposed to be a Baedeker or some tourist guide: ' Clébert offers a hellish itinerary of the less fortunate quarters of Paris. First published in 1952, Clébert's Paris insolite has been classified as a novel, though it is as journalistic as George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London; if it has novelistic kinship, it might be to Jean Genet's Thief's Journal.....The photographs, by Molinard, are in the stark documentary style of a Weegee or Robert Frank.... Altogether, they add to the impression that this is less a novel than a book of reportage. But no matter how it's classified, it's a sobering, eyes-wide-open view of the Paris no guidebook would care to portray." --Kirkus Reviews

"Clébert's vivid, incantatory descriptions of Paris's streets and back alleys, its abandoned attics and houses of ill-repute, its losers, liars, poor, criminals, and outcasts...English-language readers have had to wait until now to read Clébert's magnificent ode to the underbelly of Paris, rendered beautifully from the French by translator Donald Nicholson-Smith...Clébert's is a style of radical openness, and his sentences reproduce the possibilities of wandering, of getting lost."- --Hal Hlavinka, The Quarterly Conversation

"Paris Vagabond is a pleasure to tag along with, from sentence to sentence, section to section, arrondissement to arrondissement. Its catalogs of wonders...are as strange to my eyes as the catalogs of Herodotus or Italo Calvino...Paris Vagabond should be required reading for all Francophiles of the Eiffel Tower, Paris to the Moon variety...In brief, Nicholson-Smith has done a seamless job of reassembling Paris Insolite in English...It's hard to think of another book about Paris that is so entertaining, so brutal, or so genuine." --Alex Andriesse, Reading in Translation

"Poetry in the rough...Clébert's acute insider's view of the erstwhile clandestine 'Zone' of Paris and other rundown quarters in 1944-1948, and the striking photographs by Patrice Molinard (1922-2002) that accompany the text, make an extraordinary book that should be in the hands of every lover of the French capital...a French classic long overdue in English, which has been given a vivid rendering by Donald Nicholson-Smith." --John Taylor, The Arts Fuse

"Readers who come to the printed page in search of life--atrocious, beautiful, sordid, picturesque, funny and tragic life, of the warming sun and freezing rains, with behind it all a muscular and heartfelt sensuality--these readers will not be disappointed."
--Henry Muller, Carrefour

"The most startling, the most lively, the most 'Mysteries of Paris' work to appear since the peregrinations of Gérard de Nerval."--René Fallet, Le Canard Enchaîné

Praise for The Blockhouse
"Clébert's prose...hits an unfailing stride in the febrile Poe-esque evocation of the horror climax...Clébert displays a very impressive and extremely painful talent for the inferno of [his characters'] minds."--Frederic Morton, The New York Times